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August 11, 2011 1:42 PM

Vinson Stays in Aircraft Game by Advising American Eagle on Spin-Off

Posted by Brian Baxter

American Airlines parent AMR Corporation announced Thursday that it is moving closer to letting regional carrier American Eagle fly free.

AMR states in an SEC filing that it is planning a tax-free spin-off of the airline, creating a new publicly traded company in the process. Previous reports have indicated that Fort Worth–based AMR has been mulling the move since scrapping plans to sell American Eagle in 2008.

Vinson & Elkins capital markets partner Kevin Lewis in Houston, who heads the firm's aviation and airlines practice, is advising American Eagle. The firm is handling financial arrangements and regulatory and securities filings, as well as tax and employee benefits matters for American Eagle, which like parent AMR, is also based in Fort Worth. A specific date for the proposed spin-off has not been announced.

The Am Law Daily reported last month on Haynes and Boone's role representing AMR in its plans to shed American Eagle, a development that came on the heels of AMR's $38 billion purchase of 460 planes from Boeing and Airbus for American Airlines, the world's fourth-largest airline.

Former Vinson corporate partner Robert Little, who joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's Dallas office with four other former Vinson partners in January, grabbed a lead role advising American on what is the largest aircraft purchase ever.

Vinson, which has been busy lately handling some high-profile energy transactions, is also known for its long-standing ties to the aviation industry. Southwest Airlines, for instance, turned to Lewis last September for its $1.37 billion acquisition of AirTran Holdings. Vinson and Lewis also advised Houston-based Continental Airlines on its $3 billion merger with United Air Lines last year.

Jeffery Smisek, a former corporate finance and securities partner at Vinson, is president and CEO of United Continental Holdings, the parent company of Continental and United. Smisek began his career at Continental in 1995 when he was hired as the airline's general counsel. Continental's last general counsel, Jennifer Vogel, also once worked at Vinson. She didn't make the moved to United Continental, according to sibling publication Texas Lawyer.

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